Coach Mike Babcock\'s Red Wings are off to a 2-0 start. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It’s been 43 years since Toronto last won the Stanley Cup and it’ll be 44 come next June. But the 1966-67 Maple Leafs season was a magical one. They allowed more goals than they scored and finished third out of six teams, 29 points behind first-place Boston. Their top scorer finished 12th in points; and while Ron Ellis managed 22 goals, his total was 30 behind league leader Bobby Hull’s. But in the post-season, that Leafs squad bested Hull’s league-leading Blackhawks – boasting five of the league’s top-10 scorers – by holding them to just 14 goals in a seven-game semifinal, then beat No. 2 seed Montreal.
If there’s one thing that Toronto team had it was experience. The Leafs were chock-full of grizzled veterans and are fondly remembered as the oldest team to win the Cup. Seven – eight if you include Dick Gamble, who played one game that season – were aged 35 or older; two, goalie Johnny Bower and defenseman Allan Stanley, were in their 40s. Those Leafs boasted some young stars – Dave Keon being the brightest – who led them statistically, but won the ’67 Cup as much on the guile and savvy of guys like Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, George Armstrong and Red Kelly.
Sound familiar? No? Read on.
Back in mid-summer, we here at THN convened to make our predictions for the 2010-11 season – yes, we do it that early around these parts. The angst with which we debated our selections has been documented in the magazine and here at THN.com, but we settled on Vancouver as our Cup pick; the always competitive Detroit Red Wings we pegged for third in the West.
But the Wings are a popular choice amongst pundits – most recently, TSN named them its Cup favorites. And why not? Detroit is loaded with talent. As with any team, there are some question marks, but that’s a good looking group there. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen lead the attack, while Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall anchor the defense. Last season’s Calder runner-up, the mature Jimmy Howard, tends the twine.
But if you believe in destiny, you just might want to put a few bucks on the Wings for another reason.
Detroit, unofficially, could supplant the ’67 Leafs as the oldest team to ever win the Cup. This year’s Wings began their season with a 4-0 scuttling of Anaheim Friday night and a 3-2 nail-biter over the defending Stanley Cup champions Saturday. They did so with eight players on the roster aged 35 or older and two 40-year-olds.
Lidstrom and Mike Modano, the two 40-year-olds, lead the over-35 brigade, followed by Tomas Holmstrom, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Rafalski, Ruslan Salei and Todd Bertuzzi (long-time Red Wing Kirk Maltby, 37, awaits a call-up with American League affiliate Grand Rapids and could make it nine). It’s those guys who people are putting their money on as much as any of the prime-of-their-careers players Detroit also boasts.
Yes those Leafs had Hall of Famer vets Bower and Terry Sawchuk in net, but – apologies to Mr. Horton – they didn’t boast a blueliner of Lidstrom’s skill; 40 or not. Keon is known as an all-time two-way star; Datsyuk might have the craftiest hands in the world and has the past three Selke Trophies on his mantle. Henrik Zetterberg compares favourably in age and skill to Frank Mahovlich that season and comes with a Conn Smythe Trophy, to boot. Ellis? How about Franzen? Horton? Kronwall. The list goes on.
Let me just say, comparisons to the oldest team to win the Cup aside, I believe this season’s Wings are a contender; one of the few favorites, even. And let’s not forget, time is running out on the group; five of the over-35s aren’t signed past this season and as soon as Lidstrom retires the sledding will get exponentially harder. But all the skill, experience and drive to go out on top aside, maybe – just maybe – Detroit is also riding a little fate this year as well.
I mean, it’ll be 44 years since the Leafs won the Cup. Bertuzzi wears No. 44 and he’s an over-35er. So maybe, just maybe…
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